30 days of biking: Luther Burbank Park

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On Day 5 of 30 Days of Biking, I set out by bicycle to discover why a park on Mercer Island — Luther Burbank Park — was named for an African-American botanist who developed new uses for the peanut.

As many of you can guess, the first thing I discovered was that Luther Burbank was white and developed new and improved strains of hundreds of plants, but not the peanut.

I had him mixed up with George Washington Carver. I’m sometimes surprised by the depth of my ignorance, but not often.

But that still left the question of the name of the park, located on 77 acres on the north end of Mercer Island with 3/4 miles of prime Lake Washington shoreline; more than that owned by Bill Gates, another Lake Washington denizen.

To get there, I first crossed over the Mercer Slough (“slew”) which is a swampy area on the Bellevue side of Lake Washington. A bike-ped causeway takes travelers across without getting bogged down. On the bridge over a creek that runs through it, I spotted this heron looking for lunch, above.

My next stop was the I-90 bridge linking Bellevue to Mercer Island. This has a great view north to Kirkland and south to Renton. If you peer between the trees on Mercer Island, you can see the distinctive top of the Space Needle over in Seattle. When you pause here on your bike, the truck traffic makes the bridge shake.

There are a couple of entrances to Luther Burbank Park that aren’t far off the I-90 trail.

Of course, this being a park, the first thing I saw was a parking lot. Then I spied this old brick building, a former dormitory that dates to the late 1920s. It’s not park administrative offices. Looking around for interpretive signs, I discovered the reason for the name.

The land was originally the Boys Parental School, which was created around the turn of the last century for children who needed parental control. Sounds like a reform school.

After a while, the school took advantage of its acreage and created a self-sufficient farm. In 1931, the school was renamed Luther Burbank School for the “wizard of agriculture”, who had died in 1929 in California.

The school closed in 1966, and the county bought the land.


As an aside, one of Luther Burbank creations is said to be the Himalayan blackberry. The early fall berries provide a delicious snack in this area, where it grows like a weed. In fact, many of the native plants at Luther Burbank Park are in a life and death struggle with the encroaching blackberry bushes.

The photo at top is the chimney on the 1929 boiler plant that served the campus.

 30 Days of Biking

Total days — 5/5

Total miles — 68

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bikingbis.com/2012/04/05/30-days-of-biking-luther-burbank-park/

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